There’s no such thing as ‘settling down’

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I don’t want to depress you, but none of us gets to live happily ever after. It’s not just cynics like me who can’t sit still for five minutes: none of us does.

I talk about sex myths a lot – the idea that faking orgasms makes you a bad person, or that you can’t be a feminist and suck dick – but some of the most pernicious myths out there are around relationships themselves.

Happily ever after

Once upon a time there lived a little girl. She was slightly scruffy, very enthusiastic, and if you wanted to make her day you could either tell her she was great at ballet (she wasn’t) or offer to let her read aloud from her book of ’101 jokes that only children find funny.’ If you asked her what she wanted, she’d probably have said ‘a pony’, but a rainbow-coloured one, because no one wants an ordinary old pony. She believed that one day her prince would come.

Years later, that little girl grew up to be a teenager. The rainbow pony was replaced with an overwhelming desire for a black motorbike, and the skill to ride it. If you wanted to make her day you’d tell her that the purple streaks in her hair made her look a bit witchy, or that – despite being nearly six foot tall – she was graceful like a ballerina (she wasn’t). She believed that one day her prince would come. This time, though, she was a bit more realistic. She thought the prince would be unlikely to wear armour, and imagined him instead in tight black jeans and a t-shirt that clung deliciously to his stomach. He’d probably play the guitar, and read Wittgenstein.

Now, though, that girl is thirty. You can make her day surprisingly easily – with a pint of cider or an offer to do her washing up. She loves fucking, reading, and being comforted when she thinks she’s made a dreadful faux pas, and she fancies the kind of guys who sit in dark rooms writing computer code. She knows there are no princes.

‘Settle down’ forever and ever

Of course there aren’t any princes - even William and Harry are probably twats behind closed doors (or sometimes even in front of them). Besides, I don’t actually want the kind of idealised partner the fairy tale offers. Someone riding into my life to sweep me off my feet, removing all of my responsibilities and replacing them with some a saccharine, loved-up suburban ideal makes me as uncomfortable as it does sceptical. If my prince actually did come, I’d be less likely to fall at his feet than to ask him what he was selling.

And yet the myth of a ‘happy ever after’ lives on in the way we talk about relationships. People have always told me – since I was that tiny girl doing rubbish pirouhettes in my tutu – that one day I’d ‘settle down’. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty odd phrase - implying that my entire life up until the ‘settling down’ point has been an irrelevant stew – nothing more than the bubbling experiment that forms me into a complete human being. One day when I’m not too hot, not too cold, and certainly not too adventurous, I will pledge my life to someone else who’ll live out their days with me in a tranquil, almost opiate joy.

Well, bollocks to that. Because even if it were desirable (which it’s not, in my opinion – imagine a lifetime of cotton-wool calm), it’s not even close to the truth. I’ve been in a few monogamous relationships and – while wonderful, enjoyable, loving things – not one of them would ever be described as ‘settled’, or even moving towards that.

If pushed, I’ll say we’ve sometimes been ‘comfortable’, in which ‘comfortable’ could be defined as ‘haven’t had any blazing rows/worries about money/collapsing bathroom ceilings and job losses and panic attacks’ for a month or two. But even with this level of comfort – even if you love each other – you’re bound to hit a dodgy patch one day that has you shouting at each other in the kitchen over who forgot to buy the milk. Or, to pick a less trivial issue, even if you feel like you’ve ‘settled down’, a day will come when you meet someone who isn’t your partner, but who makes your chest tight and your stomach flip and you wonder ‘Oh God Oh God what if…?’

And we’ll all be sixteen forever…

These examples are just a couple out of many things that happen on a daily basis. And yet the word ‘settled’ invites us to keep striving for something permanent and tranquil – as if any relationship is a lake, and if we wait long enough the fish will stop swimming and the insects stop landing, the wind will stop blowing and eventually the surface will be smooth like glass.

Well, it isn’t fucking true. There’s no such thing as ‘settling down’. There’s deciding, and committing, and loving, and there’s a sense of security and relief that comes from not having to wade through crap responses to your online dating profile any more, but ‘settling down’? For ever and ever amen? I don’t think it’s real.

If we pretend it is then we end up with billions of disappointed humans who strive for relationship tranquility, when what they should actually be striving for is enjoyment. Love, passion, fun, all that jazz. Sometimes it’s calm, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s settled, and sometimes it’s shaky and nervewracking and the kind of thing that keeps you awake staring into the dark and wondering how you can make things right.

There are no princes: only humans. And I’m still quite shit at ballet.

 

11 Comments

  • sanecinema says:

    Be careful, when I lived in the states people came up with the horrifically cloying phrase ‘quirkyalone’ and pointed it at people like us.

  • Harper Eliot says:

    I’ve always deferred to Dan Savage on this matter: he claims that you can’t “settle down” without “settling for.” This deeply appeals to the realist in me, and also seems to suggest that there is a choice; you don’t HAVE to settle down.

    But you add an interesting dimension. Because you’re right; you never really “settle.” In fact it sounds dangerous; how much would you miss whilst you were settled comfortably?

    Definitely much food for thought.

  • pjh says:

    You nailed it in the second to last paragraph; for me it’s not about “settling down”, but being in a committed relationship full of enjoyment – with love, passion, fun, support – is my goal. We don’t always get it right, my wife and I, but we always work it out and whatever tribulations we’ve faced, we’ve ended up stronger. It helps a lot that I married my best friend, as well as the best fuck I’ve ever had – I particularly love that we find new ways of turning each other on after many years.

    Or maybe that’s an outcome of our relationship rather than a precursor?

  • Lady TT says:

    I have always disliked the phrase it means to me oppression, but totally get what your saying about settling, who in their right mind would want to “move downward”; sink, or descend,” “to subdue,” and “to conclude,” I much prefer settle up…

    What you have written is just right for me now considering what’s going on in my own relationship..maybe its time for me to “settle out”. Thanks

  • Sarah says:

    funny 2 read, nice…. :)

  • between2fires says:

    I settled down. I thought it’s what you do…being as I came from a social background (school) where I was the only female in my class to get more than a high school qualification. Smug in my job+degree+husband+house+kids+dogs. Problem is that prepackaged lives contain extraneous scrap. Much like buying a handicrafts set when all you wanted were the brushes and paint.

    The key word in “settle down” is “down”. It implies making a compromise, lowering your expectations, slotting into a niche.

    I got out. I’m now living out fantasies and friendships that I love. I am more ME than I ever was before.

  • Pleb says:

    Come on, settling down isn’t all bad! There’s something truly wonderful about still loving someone even when you want to lamp them in the face.

  • Rachel says:

    I think you are interpreting the concept of “settling” incorrectly. Firstly, it’s not about having to settle for less – it’s about growing up and realising that the person you have met is better than the whole heap of crap you thought you wanted. Secondly, “settling down” is about stopping the spin of the barrel and picking a chamber, then pulling the trigger whatever happens to be inside. It could be messy and ruin your life, but most likely it’s just a relief.

    I dislike articles that suggest that anyone is happily married is either settling, or in denial, or a time bomb waiting to go off. Believe me, there is such a thing as being happily committed to someone and being in it for the long haul. My husband is the most important person on the planet to me. We laugh constantly, we communicate deeply and we have the most unbelievable sex life imaginable (to the point where if he’s away for a few days, I have such butterflies in my stomach that I can’t wait for him to get home and have to walk to the train station in the rain to meet him, just to see him ten minutes sooner).

    Our life isn’t a fairy tale and perfect – far from it. I’ve been through serious illness, still ongoing, which means he has to support us both (it’s not terminal so no, he’s not just waiting til I die). Medications left me unable to have sex for a couple of our eight years, which was especially challenging for him. We’ve pulled through all sorts of shit and come out stronger. If you’ve never had a decent longterm relationship, you can’t get that.

    Mostly I look back on my life before and realise how empty it was – I didn’t think so at the time, but I wouldn’t go back to being single for millions of pounds. Honestly, this post reads at times as the protestations of a spoilt kid who’s friend got a better My Little Pony. You sound bitter.

    Sure it’s fun to sleep around, and maybe you don’t want to lose track of that lifestyle – but I tell you, there is something much more fulfilling (and more incredible sexually) if you’re open to it.

    • Girl on the net says:

      That’s not what I’m saying though – I’m not saying marriage or monogamy is bad, just that ‘settled’ implies a level of calm which gives us an unrealistic view of relationships.

      • Rachel says:

        Well, relationships definitely aren’t always calm. They can be really bloody tough, stressful, harmful or damaging.

        However, it makes me sad when I see people saying that the ideal relationship (at least in terms of loving each other, being stable and “settled” and confident, being sexually fulfilled and being very happy) doesn’t exist. It does. It’s hard to find but worth the fight. It makes every filthy sex session and opposite-of-monogamy thing I’ve ever done seem like a filler episode of Eastenders by comparison (and I fucking hate Eastenders). Excitement isn’t always what you expect it to be – it can come from being totally secure and “settled” too.

        And I sincerely apologise for my tone in my comment – I was in a lot of pain and grumpy, but that’s no excuse to be bitchy. This was one of the first things I read and, out of context, it made you sound very different and I took exception where no offence was intended :)

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